Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why Querying is Like High School All Over Again

So I'm 31 today.  Not happy about it, either.  I thought I was grumpy about turning 30 last year, but now I'm officially "in my thirties", and to my ears it's about as appealing as the sound of my college roommate vomiting in the top bunk while I'm trying to sleep in the bottom.

Oh yeah.  That happened.

Quality school uniforms
Our uniforms looked the ones these
girls are wearing.  No lie.
For some reason, this birthday has me thinking back to high school and how much I hated it.

I lived in Bridgeport, CT until I was 14, where I attended a Catholic  school.  We wore uniforms and had strict rules about appearances, including:
- no visible makeup
- one ring per hand
- no necklaces except crosses or religious medallions

We moved to Monroe, CT right in time for me to start high school. Public high school.  It was a different world.

Oh yeah, did I mention that up to this point I wore NO MAKEUP, and we had UNIFORMS?  Translation: I started public high school in an uppity town with no idea how to dress myself and no knowledge of trends or makeup.

I should have just walked into a lion's cage with steaks pinned all over my body.

I was completely unprepared for how inferior I would feel.  I came from a place where everyone wore the same thing every day, and anyone bearing even the slightest hint of mascara would be immediately sent to the bathroom to wash it off.  Our families shared the same humble financial standings, and I honestly can't remember thinking anyone had it much better than anyone else.

But suddenly, I was surrounded on all sides by sterotypical Mean Girls, all of whom looked like they belonged on the cover of Seventeen magazine.  Their hair was shiny and perfect, unlike the frizzy curls atop my head.  Their skin was glowy and tanned and perfectly made up.  Mine, to say the least, was not.  And on top of it, some of them drove Corvette's to school.  Corvettes.  To high school.

Oh yeah.  That happened, too.

Needless to say, with so many tantalizing choices on the table, I wasn't anything anyone wanted to look at.  And believe me, for a long time, no one did.  When people did notice me, it was to make fun of me, and then I wished I could go back to hiding in the woodwork.  Or cinderblocks, in the case of high schools.

Fast forward to today, my 31st birthday, and not much has changed.  Sure, my fashion sense has improved, and I've learned my way around a makeup bag, but now I'm feeling inferior for a different reason.  And that reason is that I can not write a freaking query letter to save my freaking life.

My query letters are like the physical manifestation of my former high school self.  Awkward, conspicuously unpolished, clunky, and consistently passed over for flashier, prettier versions as I burn with envy. 

What is it about this damn thing that evades me?  Why can I write a 3000-word chapter in a day with no problem, but a 250-word synopsis leaves me totally and utterly stumped?

It's high school all over again. 

In high school, people base their judgment of your entire being on physical appearance, and use it to accept or reject you.  In publishing, agents base their judgment of your entire novel on your query letter, and use it to accept or reject you. 

I've been writing stories since second grade, but I have zero experience with queries, and it shows.  My queries are the plain-faced, fresh-out-of-Catholic-school-girl-who-can't-get-a-date competing with the poised, blinged-out chicks who have more suitors than they know what to do with.

Basically, query letters are the Mean Girls of the publishing world.  They can be the whole reason you're misjudged and overlooked.  Been there, done that. 

Except this time, I refuse to be intimidated.  I plan to work my ass off, and with enough honing, I might stand a chance at not coming out traumatized.

So right now, all I want for my birthday is to do what I never did in high school and KICK SOME MEAN GIRL ASS!

BTW how are you today?  Are queries this much of a stymy to everyone, or is it just me?


  1. I love your view of queries. You nailed it. :D

    And the worst part is everyone is happy to tell you how to makes yours better, but I wonder how many are out to sabotage you because the suggestions only make the query suckier. Seriously, people, the kitchen sink IS NOT required in the query. ;)

  2. awe, writing the query letter is hard at first. After a while I started writing it BEFORE I even finished the book- excited about different ways of making my story sound like the coolest thing since sliced bread. You can ask a few trusted bloggie friends to help you out or there's also lots of free help on or on Elana Johnson's blog. Matt Rush (McNash) also does query critiques on his blog and is always really generous too. He helped me with my last one and it's gotten several requests. Good Luck! I'm sure you'll find your way!

  3. Great comparison and, yes, it definitely sucks, but I love that you're powering through :D

  4. Uh, yeah...definitely sucks. And even when one person says it's great and should work perfectly, you find out it's no so great and it doesn't work. Back to the drawing board. And more than once I have found flaws in my story because I just could not get the query to work. But of course I couldn't see that for myself...someone else pointed it out. Good luck!!

  5. I've been told by agents that my query letters kick butt. Now if I could only get my actual writing to do the same...

  6. The worst part about it beyond what you've already stated is that it's all completely subjective. Like all agents believe the whole "blondes have more fun" and your query is a brunette.

  7. Practice helps - but I've had a lot of practice and I still don't feel confident with my query writing. :)

  8. Come over to the QueryTracker forums and we'll help get that query into shape. :-)

  9. OMG, hilarious and so true!! "It's high school all over again." Yes! And I feel like it gets even worse as I sit refreshing my email, waiting for an invitation to the publishing party. Wah-wah-wah! Somebody pick me!!! LOL